GZA closed his classic solo album Liquid Swords with “B.I.B.L.E.”, translating to basic instructions before leaving earth. In listening to Serengeti’s Saal record, one can find basic instructions on remaining on earth and dealing with age.
Serengeti’s Saal is wrought with a deep and inescapable pain, offset by a genuine interest in growth. Imagine the naked apologies and frustrations of “Go Dancin’” from previous record C.A.R. revisited throughout a nine song player. That is Saal. He buys bed sheets as a wedding gift with plans of stealing the bride on “Wedding”. He is out to rewrite the relationships that went sour on “I Could Redo”. He’s talking himself through lost luster that can be rekindled with patience on “Day By Day”. There’s no telling whether Geti is writing an autobiographical album or Saal is a character in the arsenal of which he can purge his saddest writing in one outing. Then again, Geti could be borrowing a German word (for “hall”) for the simple fact he recorded it in Berlin with producer Sicker Man.
Sicker Man’s production has a Brion-esque quality to it, in that it’s never done growing. When it grows it’s like a fungus rather than a skyscraper. Violins in rap typically lead to a cinematic space in sound. Sicker Man uses them for a restrained dramatic effect. Whether it’s the violin soliloquy following Geti through “Karate” or a modest collection on “I Could Redo” that assist in Geti’s attempts to serenade, Sicker Man is concerned primarily with guiding us through the music, while never imposing his will. It’s a delicate touch that makes Saal far from a rap album – assigning genre would tarnish its worth.
Few characters beyond the Geti man himself, interfere with Saal. Placing “Karate” as the opener lessens the blow of facing a vulnerable Serengeti. It’s a rewarding tale of an au pair who lets a child know who runs things, but in the scheme of Saal it’s displaced. It might be one of Serengeti’s finest song writing achievements, but it lacks the first person narrative within the remainder of the record.
Saal is a record deserving of Serengeti’s birth name, David Cohn, rather than shrouded in a rap moniker. It’s undeserving of aligning the record with the freak folk/pop of Anticon label mate Why?, but “Karate” and “Day By Day” not far from the tree. Serengeti and Sicker Man have made something entirely their own, of which tossing out names like Andrew Broder of Fog, Buck 65’s Bike For Three project, or Geti’s collaborations with Sufjan Stevens, Son Lux, and Polyphonic miss the comparative mark.